Why are active forum members like gold dust?

by Martin Reed on 11 February 2008 in Articles

Forum members value

Without interaction, you have no community. Your forum may well be attracting visitors and a good number of them may be registering and becoming members, but unless they post and get involved, your site will struggle to be a success. Very often, active forum members are like gold dust – this doesn’t need to be the case, though.

Your member count is unimportant

Many forum developers boast about the number of members their community has. People are proud to declare they have 1,000 or 5,000 or 10,000 members, but upon further investigation the forum may have a low number of posts and few active members. The number of members your forum has will not determine its success – the amount of interaction and degree to which members get involved in the community will.

Forget about your member count and instead concentrate on encouraging your members to post and get involved.

New members need encouragement and prompting

Joining a new community can be intimidating for a new member. They are joining an established community as an outsider – they need to feel welcome, and they need to be encouraged to join in.

There are a number of ways you can encourage members to engage with your community; here are just a few ideas.

1. If you have a small community, consider a ‘Welcome’ section

This isn’t as effective if you have a large, established community as existing members will soon lose interest in welcoming new members twenty times a day. However, if your site attracts a few new members each day then a section of your forum dedicated to welcoming new arrivals can help encourage a new member to get involved.

Make sure you don’t just write a generic ‘Welcome to the forum’ sentence each time – this doesn’t really help you to engage with a new member. Instead, try to tailor your welcome – address them by their name, mention any hobbies or interests they have included in their profile and ask questions.

2. Ask questions to encourage interaction

Nothing is more effective at getting a member involved in your community than questions. Ask your new member where they are from. Ask your new member what their interests are. When they answer, ask them more questions. Don’t interrogate your members – just evolve a conversation through the use of questions and your new member will soon develop the habit of posting and getting involved.

3. Encourage and be enthusiastic

Starting a new thread can be intimidating – particularly for a new member. You can help reduce this natural hesitancy by encouraging members to create new threads. Tell your members that you are looking forward to reading their posts, and tell them not to be afraid of starting new topics or threads. When they do, thank them for starting a new thread and reassure them by telling them what a great post they have made. The more you encourage your members, they more they will interact and get involved.

Why active forum members are like gold dust

Active members do not need to be such a rare commodity however they usually are simply because the community developer fails to recognise the need to welcome, ask questions, encourage and reassure members. Instead, they focus on attracting traffic and boosting their forum member count.

You should worry less about your member count, and focus instead on getting your current members more involved. Pay attention to your members and focus on getting them to contribute and interact. By doing this, active members will be far less scarce and your community will become far more attractive and far more valuable.

Your thoughts

Do you invest time encouraging existing members to interact more within your community? What steps do you take to get members more involved? Do you think a forum’s member count is more important than its post count? Share your thoughts and opinions by leaving a comment below.

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{ 44 comments }

Smiley February 12, 2008 at 8:56 am

As a small, but nicely growing, community I have a ‘welcome section’. I also agree with not simply writing a generic “welcome to the forum.” sentence and leaving it at that.

A lot of people make the mistake of copy/pasting the same welcome message, too.

I personally welcome each and every member, I give each individual member their own unique individual welcome typed by myself. Laziness and short-cuts do not pay off.

A personal touch is the way to go!

I also donate 500 of our board’s ‘currency’ we use and I explain to them what they’re for. This way, they can go ahead and play around with the extra features without having to earn the points themselves first. This helps them familiarize it. When you ‘donate’ things to people the mod allows you to leave them a comment along with the donation, I leave them yet another personalized welcome message and let them know that if they need any help feel free to contact me.

I try looking after my new members as much as possible, and I try leading by example so my regulars don’t form a ‘clique’ where they begin thinking it’s THEIR community and outsiders aren’t welcome. I want them to think it is EvERYONE’S community.

Eva White February 12, 2008 at 10:17 am

I guess everything is important. I keep my focus on my current members, my old members and I take full effort to bring in new visistors to my site too. I feel post is very important aspect of my blog. If my blog has a good post my members would want to visit my blog again.

Amish Made Furniture February 12, 2008 at 1:51 pm

I find small communities more comfortable than forums for the exact reason that there is more exchange of views.

Eric Martindale February 12, 2008 at 3:40 pm

I just forwarded this article to both my Global Moderators and my Support Team. The dynamics change when you run a site about roleplay, but I think you’re spot on the money here.

We’ve already got a welcome forum, and it’s the very first forum on the list. Our two teams split the second and third points, with the Global Moderators encouraging member interaction and the Support Team doing all the encouraging and welcoming.

Online Furniture Store February 13, 2008 at 4:39 am

I agree that invlovment of members is more important than sheer numbers of members, which taken in isolation can be irrelevant. Active members means involvment, which in turn means participation and interaction which is what the aim is.

Joey February 13, 2008 at 12:08 pm

I’ve been into forums for over an year now!
I am the administrator of an 15.000+ forum and also the administrator of an 300+ forum. And I observed that people enjoy time spent on my small forum as well, because people are very friendly with them and I noticed smaller communities are usually more friendly with newcomers. That’s why I started enjoying smaller forums myself, even though I’m pretty experienced when it comes to stuff like this!

Smiley February 14, 2008 at 5:17 am

Yes, I love smaller forums also, Joey. I believe they have more of a close-knit community feeling. My forum has run into trouble this past few weeks though because it’s growing too fast for the comfort of my old regulars I think.

Cliques are forming and old regulars are beginning to argue with new ones. This is partly my fault because I’ve been liberal with the rules, as you have to be when you’re a new site.

I made an announcement today though explaining I’m no longer going to be a soft touch on rules and the arguing has to stop.

I’m beginning to worry about growing. The more the site grows the more arguments seem to crop up. I don’t want it.

Motivator February 14, 2008 at 2:07 pm

If you like people to spend time in your forum you shall need to know how to deal with them.You should know how to encouraged them and let them feel there importance in making your forum livelier. I think you should also need to share unique ideas which could not be seen in other forum. People like gold dust because they have feel there importance that they were able to impart there ideas to friends.

Nicole Price February 14, 2008 at 3:15 pm

Though the interaction and number of posts is of utmost importance, I guess number of memberships cannot be completely neglected. The idea should be the increase membership and maintain a high percentage of active members.

Martin Reed - Blog Author February 15, 2008 at 3:59 pm

Smiley – I definitely agree that a generic welcome message should always be avoided. If a new member sees they are getting the same welcome message as everyone else, it doesn’t make them feel special.

You are paying a lot of attention to new members and really helping them feel comfortable and welcome in your community. Such hard work and dedication will definitely pay off.

Eva – You make a very important point; we should never lavish attention on new members to the detriment of existing members. Both are very important and should never be ignored or forgotten.

Ramana – Small communities can feel a lot more comfortable as invariably the members are closer and know each other better. As a community grows, this community feeling can be lost but this doesn’t always have to be the case.

Eric – Thanks for the kind words; I am glad you found the article useful.

Reena – I couldn’t agree more. Active members are a symptom of the health of your community. I would take 1,000 active members over 10,000 dormant members any day.

Joey – Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment. Small forums can be just as attractive to new visitors as large ones. Indeed, many people will be keen to join the smaller communities as they can often appear to be more open and welcoming to new members.

At the end of the day, there is a place for communities of all subjects and sizes – all they need is content and activity.

Smiley – Arguments will invariable crop up as a community grows, which is only logical. When you think about it, the more members and personalities there are in your community, the more opinions there are – hence the increase in conflict.

This is when you need to decide how strictly you are going to enforce your site rules and where you are going to draw the line between activity generating controversy and downright abuse.

Motivator – It all comes down to knowing your members. By asking questions and getting involved in the community yourself, you will learn about your members. You are then able to tailor your community to satisfy their needs and wants which will encourage further activity.

Nicole – The number of members you have is important, but only if those members are active. There is no point having a member count of 10,000 when only 5 members are active and posting. Far better to have 100 active members than 10,000 inactive ones!

Smiley February 16, 2008 at 7:20 pm

See what I mean about this definitely being a community? Look at all the replies you’ve just done to every single comment, and there was a lot of them — this reassures people that you read every single one of their comments and your readers are important to you!

Fantastic example.

RooYo February 17, 2008 at 4:00 pm

try looking after my new members as much as possible, and I try leading by example so my regulars don’t form a ‘clique’ where they begin thinking it’s THEIR community and outsiders aren’t welcome. I want them to think it is EvERYONE’S community.

Eric Martindale February 19, 2008 at 12:18 am

No problem. I really appreciate everything you write. You are truly an inspiration to the community building… community. :)

In fact, so much that I’m planning on building another blog on the same topic. We’ll see how long it takes for me to get that far down on my to-do list, though.

Chat February 19, 2008 at 8:22 am

I think a forums member count is way les important then post count, the funny thing for me is my member count is high but my post count is low. Go figure eh! I do not try to attract members to join and not post but it seems most of the members who join my community will not even post once. So it’s really hard to send out an official greeting. If only all the new embers who join a forum would post at least once.

-Cody

Nicole Price February 19, 2008 at 11:19 am

That’s true Martin. But it is so tough to get people to start interacting. I for one, use a lot of forums to get the needed info from older posts but rarely post myself.

Martin Reed - Blog Author February 20, 2008 at 2:12 pm

Smiley – There sure were a lot of comments to reply too! As this blog gets more popular it certainly becomes more time consuming replying to readers, but it’s well worth the effort!

RooYoo – A very interesting comment. I often recommend community developers instil a sense of ‘shared ownership’ over a community amongst its members but you need to ensure the concept isn’t only shared by a few members in a ring-fenced clique!

Eric – Ah! A competitor, eh?!? Ha ha – plenty of room for both of us, though; good luck with your new venture :)

Cody – Hopefully the advice contained in this article will help you encourage your members to become more active and involved in your community. Good luck – let me know how you get on.

Nicole – Sure, it can be tough; but not impossible. Try the tips I have outlined in this article, and get creative. Oh, and make sure you post yourself and get involved in your own community! Good luck, and keep me updated with how you get on.

David February 20, 2008 at 4:53 pm

I was surprised to see 4five1 sell for so little. With revenue monthly of $400, it should sell for about $4000 – at least. There must have been some number issue behind the scenes.

-David

Martin Reed - Blog Author February 20, 2008 at 6:07 pm

David – I assume you are referring to the article ‘How much are online forums worth?‘. I made an error on that one – the monthly revenue was $40. I have now fixed the typo; thanks for bringing it to my attention.

Ottila Jordan - Web Designer March 1, 2008 at 5:41 pm

In most online communities the newbies ask questions, and a selected group of more advanced users answer them. If we want to keep beginning and intermediate users more engaged, we need them to shift from asker to answerer much earlier. In other words, by forcing participants to be reasonably nice to newbies, beginners feel safe posing questions, and intermediate users answering them. That is very important in most communities.

Martin Reed - Blog Author March 4, 2008 at 7:25 pm

Ottila – You make a great point, and I completely agree with you. The more members you have that engage and answer questions, the more active and successful the community will be. I like your concept of shifting members from being ‘askers’ to ‘answerers’ – very interesting.

Remember though, that it’s all about balance – you don’t want to have too many ‘answerers’ and not enough ‘askers’; questions are hugely important to communities as they encourage interaction.

Dan May 10, 2008 at 12:10 am

Eva et al – exactly, also my experience. Basically, every major user group needs special treatment and if neglected, we ask for troubles:

1) unregistered lurkers (whom we want to convert to registered ppl)
2) registered newbies (whom we want to post)
3) posting members on their path to becoming regulars
4) regulars
5) power-users and forum addicts ;)

(and then come the moderators, of course)

I’ve got waves that I do something for one of those groups.. only realizing I need to cater to the other one.. then coming back to another one… such a dance ;)

Martin Reed - Blog Author May 12, 2008 at 7:32 pm

Dan – I find it interesting how you have a separate action plan for each group of visitors to your site. I would just be wary about paying more attention to one group of users over another – you don’t want to create resentment or stir up feelings of favouritism!

Blog For Money May 30, 2008 at 7:47 pm

Of course if you ask me I would think participation is more than member count. Number of post counts normally means the participations by the members are higher. In this way, more interactions are there. Rather than a forum with plenty of members yet low in participation.

Hawaii June 5, 2008 at 3:44 pm

Well, from my experiences with forums, i would say that member count and member activity are equally important. Some forums you see on the net with no activity at all and have hundreds of members. But most forums like that either have a lack of moderation or is a part of a crowded niche.

Martin Reed - Blog Author June 27, 2008 at 12:06 am

Blog – Yes, I agree that post count is more important than member count. Bear in mind that that just because a forum has a high post count, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is a successful community with high quality content.

Hawaii – A forum without content isn’t a community. I think the types of members and the nature of the discussions that take place are more of a barometer of a community’s success than its member count and post count.

Patrick McGuinness August 11, 2008 at 10:42 am

The most important thing is creating a forum where there is a demand rather than (as I’ve seen some people do) starting a forum and pushing it in peoples faces.

If there is already a demand for the forum, even better if you know the people who would first be involved, then you will find members feel more like they own it and will feel more naturally inclined to join in.

Mike August 14, 2008 at 10:49 pm

It’s all about OTHER forum members being active. It’s almost like a snow ball effect. Once you have 100+ active members it just ends up rolling on and growing much quicker. At least, this is how my 2 successful forums started out.

Zino Millio August 21, 2008 at 4:59 am

According to my experience a good way to encourage interaction between forum members is to run a blog on the same site and suggest to discuss blog posts on the forum.
Moreover, this will also help to convert blog visitors into new members.

Wakas Mir September 3, 2008 at 10:20 am

In my communities I have noticed that on the sites with welcome area for new members and that too a very prominent position of it makes lots of difference. Users feel that they are welcomed and feel as part of the “gang” the moment they come .. so yes it makes lots of difference when admins make sure they have done their job properly as to welcoming new users..

kouji October 3, 2008 at 7:59 pm

for me, the member count is a good place to start to determine if a forum seems alright. but if i see later that the post count is low, i’ll probably think twice.

Martin Reed - Blog Author October 6, 2008 at 7:46 pm

Patrick – I think if you are imaginative you can actually create demand; I bet nobody thought they wanted Cola until Coke came along! You’re right though – if you know there is demand, then even better but you still need to make sure that you offer something different and unique. After all, when there is existing demand there is nearly always existing competition!

Mike – I agree. There is definitely something to be said for the concept of critical mass – that’s why it is so important to keep working away and encouraging interaction in your online community.

Zino – I personally wouldn’t add a blog to a forum in the hope of creating additional activity in the forum. Instead, why not just add high quality articles to the existing forum?

Wakas Mir – I agree; it is definitely important to welcome new members. By doing so, you are making them feel more comfortable and at ease – both will make them more likely to contribute and interact with the community.

Kouji – Sometimes a low member count can’t be helped, particularly when a forum is new. A low post count is a different story though – there is no excuse for that as the community manager or developer should be working hard to create content themselves if the members aren’t able to do so on their own just yet.

Ed Hardy November 17, 2008 at 11:10 pm

Active forum members = automatic content. By rewarding and giving incentives to members you can get more quality posters.

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 29, 2008 at 1:48 am

Ed – Well, it depends. If you run a competition that rewards those that make the most posts, are you really going to see quality?

goundoulf January 13, 2009 at 6:00 am

I don’t know why all forum software display the number of members and of posts. There are even plugins to artificially increase those numbers…

Instead they should display the number of posts in the last week, and the number of members who have posted more than 10 messages in the last month.

Martin Reed - Blog Author January 21, 2009 at 2:45 pm

goundoulf – The information is displayed by default, most don’t even think of editing or removing it. Besides, is that a good idea? Regardless of how valuable you think the information is, many people look at those stats and use them as a determinant of whether they will join that community.

Edward February 24, 2009 at 11:18 am

I think Eva’s points way up at the top of the comments are really good – it’s about finding the right balance in the attention you give all members.

I’ve found the “Welcome” section is the biggest contributor to creating repeat users, as opposed to people who just sign up and leave. On forums where there is a genuinely friendly “Welcome” area, so many conversations spiral out of that and become other threads too.

Jason April 20, 2009 at 10:53 am

Totally agree with you mate, currently I’m the owner of a forum that doesn’t have a lot of members.. but the members that I have are active and involved. And that’s truely worth something :)

Cihan May 2, 2009 at 4:44 am

I agree that invlovment of members is more important than sheer numbers of members, which taken in isolation can be irrelevant. Active members means involvment, which in turn means participation and interaction which is what the aim is.

Paul May 20, 2009 at 4:19 pm

Any thoughts on whether the user account should be set automatically to subscribe to comments? I believe its a way of bring others back, to contribute about there subject?

Martin Reed - Blog Author May 20, 2009 at 4:56 pm

Paul – The member should be the only one that decides whether they want to receive notification emails. Offer it as an option, but it shouldn’t be compulsory.

John May 20, 2009 at 5:45 pm

Here is good video:

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/dan_ariely_asks_are_we_in_control_of_our_own_decisions.html

It deals with human actions- It can be applied to how you can maybe apply it to the actions your forum members take.

Martin Reed - Blog Author May 21, 2009 at 9:25 am

John – What an absolutely fantastic video; thanks for sharing it. I wonder how we can incorporate a less attractive option into a forum to encourage activity?

Jason May 22, 2009 at 2:10 pm

I think a lot of people come on forums to get links for their site. Often their site has nothing to do with the forum topic. The ability to get real “on topic” posters is quite difficult. Usually the forum leader has to post his own material to make it successful. After awhile if enough posts are up then perhaps others would be encouraged to post stuff.

A big problem with posting is time. Many people probably don’t have time to post so they don’t.

Mathew Davies August 4, 2009 at 11:36 am

I’ve started a forum for roller-coaster design and what’s helped me is being close friends with a lot of my members before I started the website. I also find if you have a person who’s renowned in the same topic, that helps a great deal. Ex : My website is there to cater for roller-coaster design, so if a professional designer joined my forum, it’d spark discussion from other members.

You should also try and build relationships with other websites which are part of the same genre. I found that introducing myself over on a competitors message board and getting involved helped activity on my website too. This might not work for everyone, but it’s worth a shot.

-Mathew

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